MMA Review: #655: UFC 228: Woodley vs. Till

-When they first announced this card I was more hyped for it than any other show in 2018 – largely because Darren Till was getting a title shot, but also because of a stacked undercard. That ended up being decimated by injuries (goodbye Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez!) and a weight snafu that took out the co-main event of Nicco Montano vs. Valentina Shevchenko, but yeah, I was still pumped.

UFC 228: Woodley vs. Till

Dallas, Texas

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier.

Welterweight Fight: Niko Price vs Abdul Razak Alhassan

This one found itself onto the main card in place of Tatiana Suarez vs. Carla Esparza, which annoyed me somewhat as I really wanted that fight to get some exposure, but I guess this one almost guaranteed a finish as Price had never seen the final buzzer in 6 UFC outings while Alhassan had 3 KO’s on his UFC record in 4 fights. I was taking Price to win as I felt he was more well-rounded, for the record.

Round One begins and they circle and Price tags Alhassan with a right hand to counter a low kick. Both dudes start to swing pretty heavily and land big shots, and Alhassan backs Price into the fence and throws some BOMBS and Price gets KNOCKED THE FUCK OUT. Holy shit.

Whole fight took like 45 seconds or thereabouts. Basically they just threw caution to the wind, traded heavy shots and Alhassan was the heavier hitter and Price went out. Nothing more to say really outside of the fact that it was one of the most brutal knockouts of 2018. This was probably EXACTLY what the UFC were hoping to see from this fight, not that they’d have been rooting against Price, but in the sense that it was a nasty and quick knockout.

Bantamweight Fight: Jimmie Rivera vs John Dodson

This seemed like a pretty quick turnaround for Rivera as he’d only been knocked out by Marlon Moraes in early June, but I guess after a quick loss like that he wanted to get back in the saddle fast. Dodson meanwhile was coming off a solid win over Pedro Munhoz, and this was a chance for him to throw his name into the hat as a title contender. Hard fight to call all round basically.

Round One and both men look tentative. They circle around and land a couple of leg kicks each before Dodson catches a kick and throws Rivera down. Jimmie bounces right back up though and he’s fine. Head kick glances for Dodson. Good leg kick answers back for Rivera. Couple more land for Rivera and then he slips behind to go for a suplex, but Dodson blocks it really well. More glancing strikes land for both and the crowd sound restless due to the tentative nature. Decent counter combo lands for Rivera. Dodson rushes in and it leads to both landing solid punches. Round ends on the feet with a left from Rivera. 10-9 Rivera as Dodson just didn’t do enough.

Round Two and again Rivera lands with a heavy leg kick. Rivera is clearly getting the better of these exchanges. Dodson’s basically gone into counter mode now but it looks like Rivera’s a little too smart to get caught by anything heavy. Crowd are furious with this unfortunately. More of the same follows until Rivera lands a low blow and Dan Miragliotta calls time. They restart and we get more of the same again with Dodson just not really trying to push the action. He does land a kick to the body, but that’s about it. 10-9 Rivera again.

Round Three and this time Rivera really tags Dodson with an early combination and knocks him off balance. Dodson recovers quickly though only to eat a clean right hand shortly after. Looks like Dodson’s surprised at the speed of Rivera more than anything. There’s literally just not a lot to say about this fight as Rivera’s just slightly outpointing Dodson with the leg kicks and the odd combo. It’s just a bad style clash. Round ends with more of the same. 10-9 Rivera for a dull 30-27.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Jimmie Rivera. No surprise there really as Rivera just did a lot more than Dodson throughout the fight and was the aggressor for all three rounds. Dodson just allowed Rivera to lead and got lulled into a counterpunching style without landing much at all really. It was a dull fight caused by a bad style clash more than anything but fair play to Rivera for rebounding from that bad KO loss so quickly.

Featherweight Fight: Zabit Magomedsharipov vs Brandon Davis

Initially this would’ve seen Zabit – the fastest rising star in the world at 145lbs – taking on fellow hot prospect Yair Rodriguez in what sounded like one of the most exciting fights of 2018, but when Rodriguez got injured the best replacement the UFC could find on late notice was Davis, which meant – no offense – that it looked like a one-sided showcase for Zabit on paper. Still, his last fight like that – against Kyle Bochniak in April – had been awesome to watch, so I was hoping for more fireworks from this one.

First round and the crowd are treating Zabit as a star already, which is great. Davis opens proceedings with a leg kick and Zabit looks like he doesn’t give a fuck, like he just woke up or something. He works some jabs but eats a couple more leg kicks in the process. Davis isn’t doing too badly at all to be fair. Spinning backfist glances for Zabit. Low kick is countered by a combo from the Dagestani. Weird hopping trip attempt fails for Zabit. Davis pressures him back, but eats a nasty left hook on the counter and Zabit quickly adds another. More kicks reply for Davis. Hard right hand lands for Magomedsharipov. Jumping kick attempt follows. Big left lands to the body for Davis but Zabit gets his back and takes him down. Davis works back up but Zabit remains on him and then he delivers a BIG GERMAN SUPLEX. Davis stands again though, and the round ends with a crazy cartwheel kick from Zabit that leads into a short exchange. Probably Davis’s round for those low kicks, surprisingly enough.

Second round and again Davis works the leg kick. Zabit catches one and takes him down though, taking the back standing again. This time he hops on with both hooks, but Davis quickly shakes him off. Good knees to the hamstrings land for Zabit and then he forces Davis down into half-guard this time. Davis manages to scramble onto his knees, but Zabit remains on him and he drags him right back down. Again Davis works up, but Magomedsharipov lands more knees to the legs and hangs on him, then hits a nasty suplex. Back up again for Davis but he eats some punches en route. One hook forces Davis to the ground, and he takes some more punches. Davis manages to turn into a clinch and uses that to escape, and Zabit lands a couple of jabs from there before hitting a SLICK step-in outside trip. Davis gives his back and Zabit slaps both hooks in this time, and he’s in trouble. Choke looks sunk but Davis manages to defend it well, and so Zabit goes into a CRAZY POSITION, locking up a combination of a kneebar, hamstring stretch and banana split submission (!) and Davis has to tap out. That was INSANE.

Credit to Davis as he fought really well and gave it his all, but once Zabit started to wear on him in the second round it was all his fight, and that submission he busted out was ridiculous. Announcers mention that Aljamain Sterling used a similar submission on the prelims but this was entirely different as Zabit hooked the opposite leg like a banana split too. One of the craziest submissions in UFC history in fact. Cannot wait to see this guy start fighting top ten level opponents. This finish more than made up for the dull Rivera/Dodson fight previously.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Jessica Andrade vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz

This was basically a de facto #1 contender’s match at Strawweight, with both women having a claim to the next shot at Rose Namajunas – Kowalkiewicz was responsible for her last loss, while Andrade had beaten the former top contender Claudia Gadelha pretty handily. Despite Kowalkiewicz being slightly more skilled in my opinion I wasn’t sure how she could handle the power of Andrade and so I went with the Brazilian.

Round One gets underway and both women come out firing right away. Andrade has Kowalkiewicz hurt with a big flurry and she has to retreat, and holy shit Andrade keeps on swinging. She fights like the PRIDE Wanderlei Silva with the berserker punches. Kowalkiewicz comes back with some punches and a knee, but she looks badly outgunned here. Big right hand tags Andrade but she fires back and they’re openly exchanging again. Both women are landing clean here before Andrade WAYLAYS HER WITH A RIGHT HOOK and Kowalkiewicz goes DOWN AND OUT. Literally a one-punch knockout.

Wildly exciting fight while it lasted but it was clear pretty quickly that Kowalkiewicz was coming in with a bad gameplan of trading with a far more powerful striker. I mean, Kowalkiewicz was landing clean combinations of her own and was almost outlanding her right before she got knocked out, but the power was the difference as Andrade was absorbing all of the punches while Kowalkiewicz was constantly being hurt. Andrade vs. Namajunas should be a hell of a fight when it happens because I just don’t know how Rose will deal with that power, although she’s always found a way in the past!

UFC World Welterweight Title: Tyron Woodley vs Darren Till

This was Woodley’s first title defense for over a year – since the God-awful Demian Maia fight – and not many people were excited about it, feeling he should’ve been fighting interim champ Colby Covington instead. I was on the other side – I was buzzing over Till’s chance to win the title as he’d become one of my favourite fighters since his KO of Donald Cerrone, and I felt that the Scouser had the right style – his huge size for 170lbs, and his striking style of walking down and backing his opponent up – to take Woodley out, giving us a new champion.

Round One begins and the crowd are pretty fucking hot for this. Till presses forward early and just about avoids an early rush from Woodley, who follows by aggressively grabbing a clinch. He forces Till into the fence, but the Scouser defends the takedown despite Woodley getting pretty deep on a bodylock. Ref calls a quick break and Till pushes forward with both men throwing out a lot of feints. Left hand glances for Woodley. Till is hardly throwing anything here. Couple of body shots land for Woodley. Crowd begin to get slightly restless with two minutes to go largely because Till still isn’t firing much at all. Looks like he’s trying to work out Woodley’s timing. Low single leg from the champ is stuffed by Till who then finds himself forced into the fence. Woodley looks for a trip but can’t get it, and with about 30 seconds to go Dan Miragliotta calls another break. Left hand glances for Till finally. Head kick attempt misses for the Scouser and that’s the round. Uneventful round but it’s Woodley’s for being more active I guess.

Round Two and Till pushes forward, but walks into a BIG RIGHT HAND that sends him crashing down! He’s in deep trouble as Woodley drops some BOMBS onto him looking to finish, and then switches to some massive elbows that have him cut open. Holy shit this could be stopped, but somehow the challenger just about holds on from the guard enough to survive. More big elbows connect though and Jesus this is a lot of damage to be taking. Into half-guard for Woodley now and it looks like he’s trying to set up a mounted crucifix. More elbows land for the champ and he moves into full mount, but Till manages to buck him off and get half-guard. He makes the error of reaching for an underhook though, and that allows Woodley to drop more elbows before LOCKING IN THE D’ARCE! Till tries to hold on…but he can’t manage it and taps out there.

Post-fight Woodley’s trainers present him with his BJJ black belt and man, you can’t deny him that after pulling off that submission. Best Woodley performance since the Lawler win and I think it shut up a lot of the critics who were labelling him a boring fighter, as he basically smashed right through a dangerous and undefeated challenger within two rounds. Till just couldn’t even get out of the gates as he looked to be working out Woodley’s timing throughout the first, but then got dropped early in the second and couldn’t recover. I mean, that second round was a total massacre. Whether Till even comes back as the same fighter after this is a question mark to me. As for Woodley, onto Colby Covington hopefully to settle that issue, and if he beats him then you’d have to consider him up there with GSP and Hughes. Tremendous main event, at any rate.

-And surprisingly enough we end up with a TELEVISED PRELIM. How often do you ever see that these days?

Bantamweight Fight: Aljamain Sterling vs Cody Stamann

Battle of two top-ranked Bantamweights then with Sterling, who was coming off his win over Brett Johns, facing Stamann, who’d gone 3-0 in the UFC including beating Bryan Caraway, who of course handed Sterling his first ever loss. I was taking the Funk Master to win this one though feeling he was slightly better than Stamann in all areas.

Fight begins and they trade head kicks from the off with Sterling landing a couple of clean right hooks too. Both guys look pretty aggressive here. Takedown attempt from Sterling is defended well and Stamann continues to fire off with strikes. More kicks from Sterling force Stamann back, and it looks like he might be struggling a bit. Takedown attempt from Sterling follows, but Stamann defends it well. They jockey for position along the fence and Stamann decides to drop for a takedown of his own, but Sterling defends that well too. They break off and Stamann fires punches that force Sterling back, but Sterling fires back with a head kick into a right hand. Spinning backfist lands for Sterling but he ends up on his back in a scramble. Leglock attempt goes wrong and Stamann takes the back for a second, but slips off and then manages to tackle Sterling down coming off another scramble. Nice stuff. Sterling goes right into a triangle though and it looks pretty deep. Stamann manages to survive and slips his head free, but that allows Sterling to stand back up. Round ends in a scramble and a German suplex for Stamann. Great round; probably 10-9 Stamann but it was super close.

Into the 2nd and Stamann again forces the action, landing a decent head kick in the opening seconds. Sterling comes back with some strikes of his own and forces Stamann back, and he tries a takedown that Stamann manages to sprawl to avoid. Takedown does follow for Sterling though and this time he takes the back and slaps one hook in. Nice punches land from there but he loses the hook and Stamann stands. Sterling works some knees to the legs from there but ends up giving up a double leg. He pops right back up and now Stamann grabs a rear waistlock, but Sterling spins around into him and breaks off with a knee. Another pretty wild scramble follows and ends with Sterling on top, passing into side mount and then full mount! Big shots land for him from there and Stamann gives his back. He looks hurt to me. More big punches land for Sterling and he’s looking to finish. Both hooks in for Sterling and he flattens him out and goes for a FULL NELSON of all things, but unsurprisingly it doesn’t work and so he lands more punches and then busts out the dreaded HAMSTRING STRETCH and Stamann’s knee blows out and he’s forced to tap.

Well, sure enough that was a sick submission – just as nice as the announcers mentioned when Zabit’s fight was on earlier in the broadcast. This was very different to Zabit’s though – a pure hamstring stretch ala Kenny Robertson in 2013, but Sterling didn’t really have to stretch Stamann quite so much as he pulled the leg to the side and totally blew the knee apart. One of the best submissions of the year, and it puts Sterling right back into title contention. Great fight overall too as both guys showed insane levels of aggression and the difference was Sterling’s superior grappling in the end.

-Announcers discuss the future match-ups which all sound pretty great, and that’s it from Dallas.

Final Thoughts….

Dull Rivera/Dodson fight aside this was a GREAT SHOW, with literally every fight over-delivering in terms of quality and five great finishes, including one of the best KO’s in women’s MMA history and two of the best submissions in UFC history too. Woodley/Till delivering – albeit not in the way I expected – was just the icing on the cake in the end. Thumbs way up for one of the best PPV shows of 2018. If you missed it live, check it out ASAP.

Best Fight: Magomedsharipov vs. Davis
Worst Fight: Rivera vs. Dodson

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: